After Katrina: visiting Biloxi’s Ohr-O’Keefe Art Museum

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BILOXI, MS (WJTV) – Ten years after Katrina we’re bringing you stories of struggle, recovery, hope and leadership.

There’s one place you can visit and see all of those things and more. News Channel 12’s Terrance Friday takes us inside the Ohr-O’Keefe Art Museum in Biloxi, MS that has dedicated much of its space to remembering Katrina.

“This was a symbol that was on nearly every house down here during Katrina. There was so much destruction that you didn’t know who was alive or who was dead in the house. “

It’s a shocking and detailed look at the total destruction that was Hurricane Katrina. There were a lot of eyes on New Orleans after the levies broke, but the Mississippi Gulf Coast felt the wrath of the storm in a very serious way.

The Katrina Plus 10 exhibit focuses on that area. Giving a detailed look at the sights and sounds of the storm.

“You walk in here and it takes you back to exactly like it was right after Katrina. It’s hard to see all of this.My family went through it; we lost everything. To go back and see the destruction, everything comes back. It hits you like a huge wave,” says Laura Alford

Kevin O’Brien Executive Director Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art says:

“Most of the people who come into the exhibits are people who are from out of town. We found that for the people who live here and who went through the Katrina experience, it’s really emotionally tough for them to go through it.”

Katrina brought 135 mile-per-hour winds and 30 foot storm surge. The museum itself is a reminder of Katrina’s power. At the time, the area’s casinos were on water. The strong winds brought one of the structures crashing into the Ohr-O’Keefe.

“When it was a sin to gamble in Mississippi on land, they had it on these gambling barges. One of the barges came loose from its moorings and it pretty much sheared this whole campus down. We lost 18 live oak trees. The barge was sitting on top of our museum complex. That had to all be reconstructed. It’s a very emotional exhibit for people who come in. It really tells the story of course the destruction that the gulf coast went through. The most important thing is about rebuilding and becoming a stronger gulf coast,” explains O’Brien.

Eventually the museum will revert back to its usual state, showcasing other art exhibits. For six months however, the museum will focus on the catastrophic damage the hurricane left behind, while also looking at the recovery.

“It’s nice to see. It’s nice to say look at where we have come. Look at the amazing things we changed here and how we made it a better place and grew,” reflects Alford.

“This has been a great experience for the museum to really help us connect with the community. To let them know that we are them and we all went through this thing together,” expresses O’Brien.

Something we saw a lot of during Katrina was people stepping up to help and doing whatever it took. In Forrest County, that Mississippi ‘can do’ attitude put one local leader at odds with the federal government.

We’re talking about Forrest County Sheriff Bill Mcgee.

He needed ice for people in the Hattiesburg area in the aftermath of the storm, so he went to the one place he knew had it – Camp Shelby.

But when they didn’t want to give it to him, he didn’t take ‘no’ for an answer.

“Got a group together of about 6 deputies and 2 had CDL’s that could drive big trucks and I told them we were going to Camp Shelby to get 2 truck loads of ice but that if it didn’t work out I was going to take the ice,” Sheriff McGee remembers.

And take it he did, but those actions weren’t without consequence.

We’ll bring you the story of Sheriff Mcgee tomorrow on News Channel 12 as we continue our look back 10 years after Katrina.

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